I woke up on Thanksgiving thinking about what I am thankful for. Honestly, there are a lot of things I should be – and am – grateful for in my life. I am married to the best person I’ve ever met, my wife’s family has accepted me as one of their own since I moved to the U.S., my family has been nothing but supportive about this move, I like my job, I am entertained by my cat, I am blessed to have good friends. Plus, I live in a bubble of white-male privilege that protects me from many ailments in American society, making my life much easier than the lives of many others for no good reason. So many things to be thankful for, and yet so easy to be cynical. Trump is going to be president, CNN entertains a conversation on whether or not Jews are people, peaceful Native-American protesters at Standing Rock are treated by police in a manner than can only be described as inhumane (on the week of Thanksgiving! The past is still here), white supremacist are taking over the White House, and the list goes on. But amidst all that, something important is happening – young Jews are reclaiming the moral consciousness of American Jewry.
The “blind spot” of American Jewish liberals in relation to the suffering of the people of Palestine is mind boggling to me. This blind spot is so pronounced that it created a whole new type of progressive, the PEP, “Progressive-Except- on-Palestine.” The PEP is horrified by the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, but willing to argue that there is nuance and perhaps support the government of Israel, with Eyelet Shaked as the Minister of Justice, who posted on Facebook an article calling Palestinian children “little snakes.” From my experience, many American Jews explain the dissonance by raising issues of safety. If Jews aren’t safe in Israel where will they be safe? Conflict is messy, and in conflict people get hurt and racist things are said, but what’s the alternative? That is the false dichotomy that is often offered and perpetuated by the American Jewish establishment. Following this logic, if nothing else, this week should have stoked that fear. Stephen Bannon, the executive chair of an alt-right anti-Semitic new site, is going to be in the White House! Even America isn’t safe for Jews anymore. But in the safety calculus of the American Jewish establishment, an anti-Semite that is also an Islamophobe is ok. Apparently, a Muslim-hating white supremacist anti-Semite is a “son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch” (to quote FDR) in the eyes of many American Jews.
The Jewish establishment doesn’t represent many young American Jews, and resistance was organized quickly. Under the banner of Jewish Resistance, millennial Jews came together in New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia, and other cities to protest Bannon. But they did not only protest Bannon. Pele IrgangLaden, one of the IfNotNow organizers of the Philly Jewish Resistance Against Trump march that brought out 150 Jews, told me: “we [Jews] know we will not be free unless Muslims, immigrants, black folks, queer folks, are all free. Our liberation is bound together and cannot be segmented or divided.” This sentiment demonstrates solidary both with members of non-Jewish communities, and with Jews who self-identify as members of multiple groups, such as queer Jews or Jews of color. The importance of intersectionality also came across in Abe Silberstein’s account of the protest against Bannon in NYC, “We must make clear any accommodation of white nationalism is unacceptable in the Jewish community. The alt-right… is an increasingly violent threat to our Muslim, Black, Hispanic, and gay friends and neighbors.”
Palestinians are suffering under their version of an alt-right government. In the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians have been living for decades under military rule without basic human rights. Palestinian citizens of Israel suffer from racism within Israeli society on a daily basis. To truly unite our joint struggle for liberation and against racism and oppression, the struggle of the people of Palestine must be an integral part of the struggle against anti-Semitism. As Sarah Barasch-Hagan, IfNotNow organizer and Rabbinical Student in Philadelphia, shared with me: “We know that the Jewish institutions we're targeting for refusing to take a stand against Trump are the same ones that excuse or even justify the Occupation. Their version of pro-Israel at any cost is part of what got us here.”
This Thanksgiving I am going to give thanks for Jewish Resistance, the movement that is leading the fight against antisemitism and the battle against Islamophobia, against white-supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and the occupation of Palestine in the Jewish community. As the 50th anniversary of the occupation gets closer, very few deserve a pat on the back. We need to applaud the work of Palestinian and non-Palestinian organizers who are working day and night for non-violent resistance to end the occupation. But there is still much work to be done. We can hope that at last, Jewish Resistance will be the movement that reclaims the consciousness of American Jewry. That it will be able to frame the occupation as the humanitarian crisis it is for the people of Palestine, the moral crisis it is to all those who are complicit, and a human rights issue, not a political issue. This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the so much needed changing of the guard in the American Jewish community.
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